Michael Mukasey, US President George W. Bush's pick to replace Alberto Gonzales as attorney general, is not expected to prompt the confirmation battle that Senate Democrats threatened to wage if a more partisan nominee was chosen.
The retired federal judge from New York has received endorsements in the past from liberals, including one of the Senate's most liberal Democrats.
And while some legal conservatives have expressed reservations about his record on the federal bench, other conservatives are happy about the decision Bush was expected to announce yesterday.
The White House refused to comment on the nomination, which was confirmed on Sunday night by a person familiar with Bush's decision. The source refused to be identified by name because the nomination had not yet been formally announced.
"While he is certainly conservative, Judge Mukasey seems to be the kind of nominee who would put rule of law first and show independence from the White House -- our most important criteria," said Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat who is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Mukasey, 66, is a New York native and a judicial adviser to Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City.
If Mukasey gets a nod from the Senate, he would take charge of a Justice Department where morale is low following months of investigations into the firings of nine US attorneys and Gonzales' sworn testimony on the Bush administration's terrorist surveillance program.
"For sure we'd want to ascertain his approach on such important and sensitive issues as wiretapping and the appointment of US attorneys," Schumer said, "but he's a lot better than some of the other names mentioned and he has the potential to become a consensus nominee."
In 2005, the liberal Alliance for Justice put Mukasey on a list of four judges who, if chosen for the Supreme Court, would show the president's commitment to nominating people who could be supported by both Democrats and Republicans.
Nan Aron of the alliance said the Senate would likely view Mukasey's nomination as a "conciliatory" act.
"He'd be closely scrutinized, but at the end of the day he would probably be confirmed," she said. "It would certainly be a departure for the Bush administration to send up a consensus candidate."
Bush critics contended the Mukasey nomination was evidence of Bush's weakened political clout as he heads into the final 15 months of his presidency.
The president's supporters say Mukasey has impeccable credentials, is a strong, law-and-order jurist, especially on national security issues, and will restore confidence in the Justice Department.
Mukasey has drawn lukewarm reviews from some members of the Republican Party's right flank. Some legal conservatives and Republican activists have expressed reservations about Mukasey's legal record and past endorsements from liberals, and were drafting a strategy to oppose his confirmation.
William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, said some of his fellow conservatives are upset that former solicitor general Ted Olson, who represented Bush before the Supreme Court in the contested 2000 election, was not chosen. Last week, some Senate Democrats threatened to block confirmation of Olson.
"There is a case for nominating Olson, and inviting a Senate confirmation fight over issues of legal philosophy and executive power," Kristol wrote in a column posted on the Internet soon after he learned Mukasey was likely Bush's pick.
"There is also a case, though, for nominating an attorney general equally as first-rate as Olson, but one who'll be easily confirmed -- and who will, I believe, come to judgments similar to Olson's on key issues of executive power and the war on terror," he said.
Mukasey is not as well-known as Olson in Washington. As chief judge of the busy federal courthouse in Manhattan for six years, Mukasey handled high-profile terrorism cases.
"I don't know enough about him, so he has to pass that test for me, go through that filter," Democratic Senator Joseph Biden told Fox News on Sunday.
"Is he going to be the president's guy? ... Or, is he going to stand up and defend the Constitution and be the people's lawyer as well?" Biden said.
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